My #actuallyautistic adventures

#ActuallyAutistic

  • Special Interest Sunday: Sonic the Hedgehog

    As you no doubt know, autistic people tend to get extremely interested in the things they enjoy, to the extent that we can often become frustrated and upset if we can’t pursue them. We call these things special interests, and they can be absolutely anything, from a certain period in history to an animal or a media franchise. All that matters is that it’s a very strong fascination with a given topic that often consumes our thoughts on a day-to-day basis, and often we feel compelled to know absolutely everything about it. Special interests can change over a period of time, or remain something we enjoy our whole lives.

    I’ll be devoting the occasional Sunday to discussing my own special interests ie. infodumping about them, in this segment I’ve titled Special Interest Sunday. Today, it’s going to be about Sonic the Hedgehog (you were warned BTW).

    First up, time for a pop quiz! What was the first game Sonic appeared in? That’s right, it’s…

    Rad Mobile!

    If you knew this, well done! If not, let me inform you (this is often where people who aren’t as interested tune out)…

    Rad Mobile was released in Japanese arcades in the early 90s, having debuted on the Nintendo Entertainment System (Nintendo’s first home console) in 1987. In the arcade version, Sonic made an appearance as an ornament hanging off the player’s rearview mirror, where he was just sort of there, essentially.

    Before this appearance, Sonic had been designed as part of an internal competition held by Sega to design a new mascot for their company who could compete with the likes of Mario (who needs absolutely no introduction). They’d tried their luck with a humanoid character named Alex Kidd, but they wanted a mascot who would gel with the image of a cool company they were cultivating for themselves. Sega decided to focus on characters who could roll into round balls, and a Japanese artist/game designer Naoto Ohshima ended up winning with his concept of a blue hedgehog who could run at extremely high speeds and knock out his enemies by rolling and jumping into them.

    Initial ideas included a rabbit who could fight enemies with his prehensile ears but this proved to be too much for the Sega Genesis (Mega Drive to the non-US market) to handle. As well as this, Ohshima had also created a round man in pyjamas with a bushy moustache who, in spite of not winning the contest, was very popular with the team at Sega and was adapted into Sonic’s arch-nemesis, Dr. Robotnik.

    The first full Sonic game, Sonic the Hedgehog, was released for the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive on June 23rd 1991, to great critical acclaim. People enjoyed the fast-paced gameplay and the novel idea of Sonic rolling into his enemies, and the console became massively popular in the US and helped Sega win about 65% of the console market there. Thus, work on the sequel began in November of that year.

    Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was put out in November 1992, and is renowned for being the first game to feature Sonic’s friend, Tails the fox (real name: Miles Prower, which is a funny pun on “miles per hour”). He followed Sonic about over the course of the game (unless you went one of the characters on their own), and he had the novel characteristic of being able to fly with his two tails! Sonic 2 was met with rave reviews by critics and fans alike, and is still considered the best of the classic Sonic games by many people. Fun Fact: Tails even had two of his own games! He featured in Tails Adventure and Tails’ Skypatrol, both released on Sega’s portable console, the Game Gear (which wasn’t as successful as its other efforts but is, in my opinion, a pretty underrated piece of kit).

    The development of a further sequel (which, as broadly expected, was called Sonic the Hedgehog 3), began two months later and was subject to a lengthy development period defined by all sorts of complications. Now, Sega were even more ambitious with Sonic 3 than the last two games – it was bigger and had many more mechanics than the games that had come before it. It also introduced Knuckles the Echidna, Sonic’s secondary rival turned friend and staunch ally against Dr. Robotnik (once he found out Robotnik was lying to him about Sonic stealing the Master Emerald). Due to the sheer size of the game, as well as time constraints caused by a collaboration with McDonald’s who were promoting the game with a Happy Meal range, the game had to be split in two and thus Sonic 3 was very quickly released in February 1994. The second part was released in October of that year as Sonic & Knuckles, in which the player could choose to play as either character, with the storyline changing slightly depending on who you went with. The Sonic & Knuckles cartridge incorporated a ‘lock-on’ technology, with a slot on the top of the cartridge where you could put the Sonic 3 cartridge and experience the game as was initially intended. Many people, myself included, consider the resulting game Sonic 3 & Knuckles the best entry in the classic series.

    Fun Fact #2: much of the music in Sonic 3 & Knuckles was composed by none other than Michael Jackson! His involvement was rumoured for many years, and all but confirmed by Sega in more recent times. Unfortunately, it was overshadowed by the unpleasantness surrounding him and Macaulay Culkin and it’s perhaps due to these events that his name doesn’t appear in the end credits of the game. But take a listen to the soundtrack and you can hear a lot of the hallmarks of his music – the end credits theme is essentially a sped up version of ‘Stranger in Moscow’, for example.

    Somewhere between these events, in 1993, Sonic CD was released as a game for Sega’s not-as-successful Sega CD. The Sega CD was a peripheral for the Genesis/Mega Drive that was attached to the bottom of the console and used CDs rather than cartridges. A somewhat eccentric affair, Sonic CD was a mish-mash of back-to-basics gameplay (Tails wasn’t there, for example) and convoluted time travel mechanics that I never quite figured out. Of all the Sonic games I’ve played, Sonic CD is certainly one of them. That being said, the soundtrack is absolutely brilliant and the game introduced Metal Sonic, Sonic’s robotic rival who went on to become very popular with fans of the series.

    Bizarrely enough, the Sega Saturn, which was Sega’s mid-90s attempt to break into the 32-bit games market, didn’t actually feature a mainline Sonic platformer; instead, they released Sonic R, a flawed but strangely lovable racing game (with an absolutely banging soundtrack which you can listen to on Spotify) and Sonic Jam, a compilation of Sonic’s previous platformers which included such features as an Easy Mode and a pretty cool segment named Sonic World, a sort of pseudo-3D area where Sonic could run around and visit such locations as a museum of Sonic concept art and a cinema that showed Sonic adverts through the years, as well as a promotional clip for the Sonic OVA, a slightly naff but ultimately lovable two-part animated movie put out in 1996. This section of the game provides a glimpse into what a Sonic game for the Saturn could well have looked like, and who knows how things would have changed had we seen one?

    It would be until the release of the Dreamcast in 1998 that we would see true 3D Sonic platformers – Sonic Adventure (1998) and Sonic Adventure 2 (2001), which to this day remain popular among Sonic fans. The latter saw the introduction of yet another rival for Sonic, Shadow the Hedgehog. (Imagine a teenage goth version of Sonic and you’re just about there.) Unfortunately, the Dreamcast would be Sega’s last foray into the console market, discontinued just 3 years after its initial release.

    Since then, Sega has mostly produced Sonic games for other consoles. Many of the 3D Sonic games are far less popular than the 2D platform games of old, especially the critically-panned Sonic 06, almost universally hated by Sonic fans due to its glitchy gameplay and bizarre plot involving Sonic making out with an actual human being.

    But it’s not been all bad for the blue blur! In 2017, Sega worked together with the small developer Headcannon to release the absolutely brilliant Sonic Mania in 2017, a 16-bit platformer in the vein of the classic games. Sonic Mania was a tasteful, thrilling blend of old and new, featuring classic Sonic levels, mechanics and characters as well as brand-new levels, background music and concepts. I’ve played this game a ton of times and I own it on both Switch and PC (you can add fun modifications to the latter, you see). As well as this, Sonic has had two fantastic animated movies in the past couple of years, which were highly popular with longtime Sonic fans and movie critics alike, as well as general cinema fans.

    That was a really long post – thanks for reading this far if you managed! There’s a lot more stuff to be covered which I didn’t manage this time around, but which could well come around in a future post. In the mean time, I hope this was an interesting read and not too dull or long-winded – you might have noticed I tend to get super into talking about things I like and providing a lot of context, fun facts etc to the extent that my stories often last about 50 times longer than they should. It’ll happen again next Special Interest Sunday – you’ve been warned… 😜

  • 30 minutes

    What would you do with an extra half hour before work in the morning? Sleep in? Have a leisurely breakfast? Get a jump on some work? In my case, the answer was quite simple: panic.

    As you may know, a common autistic trait is a love of routine. Many of us thrive on knowing what’ll be happening at a certain point each day, sometimes so much so that the littlest change, implemented quite suddenly, can really throw us off. One of the things that’s great about my own job is knowing what hours I’ll be in each day – it makes things simple and it provides structure to my day.

    Now, things were being shuffled around at the work a little bit and my manager was changing around people’s hours. The great thing was my times were the same most days, except Fridays (today!) where I go in at 9:30 rather than 9. “Great, an extra half hour in bed!”, I thought.

    But, it didn’t work like that.

    Great puzzlement ensued from this change of routine. I was doing the same things I do each morning: getting breakfast, washing my face, getting dressed etc, but at different times, which really threw me for a loop. It doesn’t sound like a lot to adapt to, and I didn’t think it would be, but I was very confused, and even stalled several times out of confusion and uncertainty as to what to do next. I ended up becoming quite overwhelmed.

    When I got to work for half 9, it also turned out my manager had forgotten about the change of hours as well (genuine mistake, to be fair) and had been expecting me at 9, leading to even more of these feelings on my own part and making me feel anxious for a while afterwards.

    But again, life is a lot like that sometimes. Anyone can be thrown off by an unexpected change, but for autistic people it can be very destabilising, more so than I even realised before the events of last Friday morning. Even just now, having this extra 30 minutes feels like there’s a huge crevasse in front of me, I’ve got a set of very rudimentary tools with which to traverse it and I’m sort of just staring across it with no idea what tool does what, where to start that’ll be stable or any idea how I got to this crevasse in the first place.

    That said, I’ve learned over the years to be more flexible – it helps knowing in advance how things will change on any given day, and I’ve begun to adopt a policy of, in the words of Jim Carrey’s Dr Robotnik, “expecting not to expect something, so it doesn’t count”. (You can expect a lot of stuff about Sonic in this blog, by the way – that’s some ground I’d like to cover later.) Much as I have to set myself up for any changes, it’s easy enough for me to reset and get used to things after a short while and a bit of planning. And as you can see, I’m trying to make the most of my 30 minutes today.

  • “What is Sephiroth?”

    This was the question a GP asked me in October 2021. For those of you who don’t know either, Sephiroth is the bad guy from an RPG named Final Fantasy 7, widely hailed as one of the best video games of all time. Fair warning, video games will become a running theme in my posts because they’re what you’d call a special interest of mine. Now that you’re up to speed, here’s the rest of the story…

    A little over a year and a half ago, I was training to become a high school teacher – a line of work which I subsequently left behind, but that’s another story. I was in the middle of my second placement and having a staffroom chat to my then mentor, the head of the department. Somehow, Sephiroth came into the conversation – I don’t remember how but it’s not really important. My mention of his name was met with the response “I don’t know what that is”.

    “Oh right, normal people”, I thought.

    I explained to her what I was talking about and the conversation continued on its merry path. A few months later, I got an appointment with my local GP with a view to getting a referral from them to be assessed for autism. I decided to write down a list of things to mention well in advance, and I thought to myself hey, the Sephiroth story would make a pretty good example of the difficulties I’ve experienced in communication with others.

    Of course, it hadn’t even occurred to me that the GP wouldn’t know about him either.

    Thus, I was met once again with the enquiry as to the significance of this word that presumably he hadn’t so much as heard until my awkward arse blustered into his office and basically given him my life story up until that point. Perhaps unsurprisingly he said that he would be surprised if I wasn’t autistic (and that was before this).

    But, you know, life is a lot like that for me sometimes. As you probably know, autistic people often have very strong interests in the things they like, to the extent where thinking about them takes up a significant portion of our day. Often along the way, I lose track of who else knows about what, and I subconsciously assume everyone knows what I’m talking about or relates to my experiences. I find it hard to separate my own mind from someone else’s, and often that manifests in awkward yet amusing situations like having to explain to a health professional about a fictional villain from a video game put out in 1997. This is also why I decided to explain who he was at the beginning of this post, to dispel any future awkwardness – and also because when I talk to people, I like them to know the full context behind what I’m telling them (even though I usually either totally forget to verbalise it or tell you, absolutely everything I feel you’d appreciate knowing and have to be prompted by you or someone else into telling the actual story).

    So to round off – which I am terrible at doing – if ever you find yourself not understanding something like this, don’t despair! I always assume the best of you, the listener, and that extends to your intelligence and understanding of what I’m talking about. Sometimes, we just need that little bit (or large bit!) more context.

  • About me

    Hi everyone,

    My name is John, I’m 31 and I’ve recently been diagnosed as autistic. I thought I’d start a blog to discuss my own experiences and thoughts about all things autistic – I aim for my posts to be relatable to other autistic people, informative to others and entertaining for everyone! Lovely to meet you – stick around for the fun.

    J 😎

Your fabulous host

John, 31, autistic, LGBTQ+, lover of games, Sonic and McNuggets

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